Chair Yellen is widely lauded for her accomplishments at the Federal Reserve. For the most part, her four-year term at the helm boils down to four (likely soon to be five) little rate hikes over 24 months. Most lavishing praise upon Janet Yellen believe she calibrated “tightenings” adeptly and successfully. Yet financial conditions have obviously remained much too loose for far too long. This predicament was conspicuous in the markets this week. A test of a North Korean ICBM that could reach the entire U.S. modestly pressured equities for about five minutes – then back to the races.
Bubble Dynamics are in full force. The Dow gained 674 points this week. The Banks were up 5.8%, the Broker/Dealers gained 4.5% and the Transports jumped 5.9%. The Semiconductors were hit 5.6%. Bitcoin traded as high (US spot) as $11,434 and as low as $9,009 in wild Wednesday trading. Curiously, the VIX traded up 15% this week to 11.43.
It used to be that markets would fret the Fed falling “behind the curve,” fearing central bankers would be compelled to employ more aggressive tightening measures. Not these days. Any fear of central bank-imposed tightening is long gone. There is little fear of anything.
I recall writing similar comments back with the Bush tax cuts: “I’m as much for lower taxes as anyone. Yet I question the end results when tax cuts exacerbate late-stage Bubble excess.” And I seriously question the merits of aggressively slashing corporate tax rates when the federal government is $20 TN in debt. One of these days the bond market is going to wake up and impose some much need fiscal discipline. In a different era, the Treasury market would be forcing some realism upon Washington politicians (and central bankers).
Moreover, there’s a paramount issue that goes completely undiscussed. It’s presumed that lower taxes will spur economic growth and resulting booming tax receipts – that tax cuts will prove largely self-financing. Yet this fanciful notion ignores a critically important unknown: What role will the financial markets play? As we saw in the last downturn, faltering Bubble markets weigh heavily on both economic growth and government finances. I would go so far as to suggest that never has our nation’s fiscal prospects been as dependent on ongoing equities, bond market and real estate inflation.
Nine years of extreme monetary and fiscal stimulus fueled quite a boom. Interest rates were pegged way too low for too long. The seemingly obvious risk now is that market yields surprise to the upside. Despite the boom and artificially suppressed debt service costs, the federal government has nonetheless posted ongoing large budget deficits. I never bought into the late-nineties notion that budget surpluses were sustainable – that our nation would soon pay down all its debt. It was all a seductive Bubble Illusion.
Today’s delusion is so much more spectacular. I’m all for efforts to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing and export sectors. But to continue to aggressively employ system-wide fiscal and monetary stimulus at this late cycle stage comes with great risk. I’m surprised the bond market remains so sanguine. There’s a (not low probability) scenario that has consumer and producer inflation surprising on the upside, interest rates and market yields surprising on the upside, the stock market buckling to the downside, and fiscal deficits exploding to the unmanageable. The Powel Fed would confront serious challenges (in contrast to the cakewalk enjoyed by Yellen).
November 27 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “Concern over stock market values is growing at the Fed, with one official worrying that waiting too long to tighten policy could have more serious effects later. In an essay released Monday, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan warned about ‘excesses’ in the economy, pointing specifically to stocks and the government debt. The S&P 500 market cap is at 135% of GDP, the highest since 1999-2000, just as the dot-com bubble was about to pop, the central banker said. ‘I am aware that, as excesses build, we are more vulnerable to reversals which have the potential to cause a rapid tightening in financial conditions, which in turn, can lead to a slowing in economic activity,’ Kaplan wrote. ‘Measures of stock market volatility are historically low. We have now gone 12 months without a 3% correction in the U.S. market.,’ he added. ‘This is extraordinarily unusual.’”
November 29 – Reuters (Ann Saphir): “The Federal Reserve should keep raising interest rates over the next couple of years, including about four times between now and the end of 2018, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said… ‘From today, four rate hikes through the end of next year is still kind of my base view,’ Williams told reporters… Williams rotates into a voting spot on the Fed’s policysetting panel next year. ‘We need to get from here to roughly 2.5% fed funds rate over the next couple of years.’”
One regional Fed president addressing stock market excesses and another talking four additional rate hikes before the end of next year. Whether monitoring the securities markets or economic data, the case for actual interest rate normalization gets stronger by the week. It’s worth noting that October New Home Sales blew away estimates to reach a 10-year high. Housing inventory remains tight and builders are getting gear up. A stronger-than-expected November reading from the Conference Board pushed Consumer Confidence to a new 17-year high. Q3 GDP was revised up to 3.3% annualized. The manufacturing sector remains strong and auto sales resilient (above 17 million SAAR).
Ten-year Treasury yields traded as high as 2.43% Thursday afternoon. Five-year yields rose to 2.17% Thursday, the high going back to March 2011. Longer Treasury yields have for the most part ignored the almost 50 bps rise in two-year yields over the past several months. It was interesting to watch 10-year Treasury yields sink a quick 10 bps Friday morning on reports of Michael Flynn’s plea agreement (and the Dow’s immediate 380 point decline). While stocks have grown content to disregard risk, Treasury bonds seem to embrace the Bubble Thesis – and trade as if trouble is right around the corner.
And speaking of trouble… U.S. markets fixated on tax cuts have been all too happy to ignore developments in China. Officials are taking an increasingly aggressive posture in reining in lending. In particular, Beijing is targeting the enormous “wealth-management product” complex and the booming Internet lending industry. Liquidity has tightened, especially within the corporate bond market (“Worst China Bond Rout Since 2013”). Are Chinese officials finally getting serious about their Credit Bubble? (See “China Watch” below)
The Shanghai Composite was down another 1.1% this week, with a 3.9% drop since the highs on November 14. China’s CSI index lost 2.6% this week. Chinese growth and tech stocks have been under notable pressure for two weeks. Yet equities weakness was not limited to China. South Korean stocks fell 2.7% this week, and India’s equities lost 2.5%. Both Brazilian and Russian equities were hit for 2.6%. The emerging markets, in general, notably underperformed this week. European equities were also under pressure again. Could it be that Credit tightening in China is initiating a global bear market, only Bubbling U.S. equities haven’t figured it out yet?
November 24 – Reuters (Gaurav S Dogra): “For years China’s top officials have touted their ambitious policy priority to wean the world’s second-largest economy off high levels of debt, but there is not much to show for it. On the contrary, a Reuters analysis shows the debt pile at Chinese firms has been climbing in that time, with levels at the end of September growing at the fastest pace in four years. The build-up has continued even as policymakers roll out a series of measures to end the explosive growth of debt, including persuading state firms and local governments to prune borrowing and tighter rules and monitoring of banks’ short-term borrowing… Reuters analysis of 2,146 China listed firms showed their total debt at the end of September jumped 23% from a year ago, the highest pace of growth since 2013. The analysis covered three-fifths of the country’s listed firms…”
For the Week:
The S&P500 rose 1.5% (up 18.0% y-t-d), and the Dow jumped 2.9% (up 22.6%). The Utilities gained 0.9% (up 15.4%). The Banks surged 5.8% (up 14.0%), and the Broker/Dealers jumped 4.5% (up 26.5%). The Transports surged 5.9% (up 12.6%). The S&P 400 Midcaps advanced 1.9% (up 14.1%), and the small cap Russell 2000 gained 1.2% (up 13.3%). The Nasdaq100 declined 1.1% (up 30.3%). The Semiconductors sank 6.2% (up 38.9%). The Biotechs added 0.9% (up 38.4%). With bullion down $8, the HUI gold index fell 1.2% (up 1.9%).
Three-month Treasury bill rates ended the week at 124 bps. Two-year government yields increased three bps to 1.77% (up 58bps y-t-d). Five-year T-note yields gained five bsp to 2.11% (up 19bps). Ten-year Treasury yields rose two bps to 2.36% (down 8bps). Long bond yields were unchanged at 2.76% (down 30bps).
Greek 10-year yields rose seven bps to 5.37% (down 165bps y-t-d). Ten-year Portuguese yields declined six bps to 1.88% (down 186bps). Italian 10-year yields dropped 10 bps to 1.72% (down 10bps). Spain’s 10-year yields fell seven bps to 1.42% (up 4bps). German bund yields were down six bps to 0.31% (up 10bps). French yields dropped nine bps to 0.61% (down 7bps). The French to German 10-year bond spread narrowed three to 30 bps. U.K. 10-year gilt yields dipped two bps to 1.23% (down 2bps). U.K.’s FTSE equities dropped 1.5% (up 2.2%).
Japan’s Nikkei 225 equities index gained 1.5% (up 19.4% y-t-d). Japanese 10-year “JGB” yields added a basis point to 0.035% (down 1bp). France’s CAC40 fell 1.4% (up 9.3%). The German DAX equities index dropped 1.5% (up 12.0%). Spain’s IBEX 35 equities index added 0.3% (up 7.8%). Italy’s FTSE MIB index fell 1.4% (up 14.9%). EM markets were mostly lower. Brazil’s Bovespa index sank 2.6% (up 20.0%), and Mexico’s Bolsa fell 1.4% (up 3.6%). India’s Sensex equities index dropped 2.5% (up 23.3%). China’s Shanghai Exchange lost 1.1% (up 6.9%). Turkey’s Borsa Istanbul National 100 index declined 1.1% (up 33.8%). Russia’s MICEX equities index sank 2.6% (down 5.7%).
Junk bond mutual funds saw inflows of $310 million (from Lipper).
Freddie Mac 30-year fixed mortgage rates slipped two bps to 3.90% (down 18bps y-o-y). Fifteen-year rates fell two bps to 3.30% (down 4bps). Five-year hybrid ARM rates jumped 10 bps to 3.32% (up 4bps). Bankrate’s survey of jumbo mortgage borrowing costs had 30-yr fixed rates down a basis point to 4.13% (up 4bps).
Federal Reserve Credit last week declined $4.1bn to $4.406 TN. Over the past year, Fed Credit fell $5.0bn. Fed Credit inflated $1.587 TN, or 56%, over the past 264 weeks. Elsewhere, Fed holdings for foreign owners of Treasury, Agency Debt jumped $15.0bn last week to $3.387 TN. “Custody holdings” were up $261bn y-o-y, or 8.3%.
M2 (narrow) “money” supply slipped $3.9bn last week to $13.774 TN. “Narrow money” expanded $595bn, or 4.5%, over the past year. For the week, Currency increased $2.6bn. Total Checkable Deposits rose $15.2bn, while Savings Deposits dropped $19.6bn. Small Time Deposits were little changed. Retail Money Funds dipped $1.8bn.
Total money market fund assets jumped $38.1bn to $2.799 TN. Money Funds rose $80bn y-o-y, or 2.9%.
Total Commercial Paper rose $14.2bn to $1.043 TN. CP gained $119bn y-o-y, or 12.9%.
The U.S. dollar index was little changed at 92.885 (down 9.3% y-t-d). For the week on the upside, the South African rand increased 3.1%, the British pound 1.1%, the Swiss franc 0.3%, the New Zealand dollar 0.2% and the Canadian dollar 0.2%. For the week on the downside, the Norwegian krone declined 1.9%, the Swedish krona 0.8%, the Brazilian real 0.8%, the Japanese yen 0.6%, the Mexican peso 0.4%, the euro 0.3%, and the South Korean won 0.1%. The Chinese renminbi declined 0.22% versus the dollar this week (up 5.0% y-t-d).
The Goldman Sachs Commodities Index slipped 0.4% (up 7.8% y-t-d). Spot Gold declined 0.6% to $1,281 (up 11.1%). Silver sank 4.1% to $16.388 (up 2.6%). Crude declined 59 cents to $58.36 (up 8.4%). Gasoline dropped 2.6% (up 4%), while Natural Gas surged 8.8% (down 18%). Copper dropped 3.1% (up 23%). Wheat rallied 0.9% (up 8%). Corn gained 1.1% (up 2%).
Trump Administration Watch:
November 28 – Reuters (Josh Smith): “North Korea said on Wednesday it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), called Hwasong-15, that could reach all of the U.S. mainland… “If (today‘s) numbers are correct, then if flown on a standard trajectory rather than this lofted trajectory, this missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km (8,100 miles),” the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said… That would suggest that all of the continental United States including Washington D.C. and New York could be theoretically within range of a North Korean missile.”
December 1 – Wall Street Journal (Richard Rubin, Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson): “The Senate was poised to pass sweeping revisions to the U.S. tax code early Saturday after Republicans navigated a thicket of internal divisions over deficits and other issues to place their imprint on the economy. The bill, which included about $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, would lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, reshape international business tax rules and temporarily lower individual rates. It also touched other Republican goals, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and repealing the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, punching a sizable hole in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.”
December 1 – New York Times (Michael D. Shear and Adam Goldman): “President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December, becoming the first senior White House official to cut a cooperation deal in the special counsel’s wide-ranging inquiry into election interference.”
November 28 – Financial Times (Shawn Donnan): “The Trump administration launched a fresh trade attack against China on Tuesday, with Washington initiating an anti-dumping investigation against a major trading partner for the first time in more than a quarter century. The move to ‘self-initiate’ an anti-dumping investigation into imports of aluminium sheeting from China marks the first time since 1985 that the US Commerce Department has launched its own investigation without a formal request from industry. The last case was brought by the Reagan administration against Japanese semiconductor imports… A parallel investigation launched on Tuesday into illegal subsidies given to the Chinese sheet industry marks the first time since a 1991 Canadian lumber case that the Commerce Department has self-initiated a probe into subsidies. ‘President [Donald] Trump made it clear from day one that unfair trade practices will not be tolerated under this administration,’ said Wilbur Ross, the US Secretary of Commerce. ‘Today’s action shows that we intend to make good on that promise to the American people.’”
November 29 – Reuters: “Opposition has grown among Americans to a Republican tax plan before the U.S. Congress, with 49% of people who were aware of the measure saying they opposed it, up from 41% in October, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll…”
November 27 – Wall Street Journal (Anjani Trivedi): “Beijing is coming to grips with its Wild West-like financial system—not a moment too soon, many would argue. The jittery market reaction shows just how delicate that operation is going to be. The timing isn’t coincidental. Xi Jinping has solidified his hold on the Chinese government following the recent party congress, giving him leeway to tackle the country’s deep-seated economic problems. Its most serious effort yet to tame the financial system’s risks are the result. The focus of the recent rule changes is China’s 60 trillion yuan (around $9 trillion) asset-management industry. Regulators have homed in on China’s vast sea of so-called wealth- and asset-management products, the highly leveraged products that banks have sold to their customers in recent years, which in turn have fueled frothy domestic bond, stock and commodity markets.”
November 26 – Bloomberg: “It’s been the worst month for China’s local corporate notes in two years. And it might just be the start, as the nation’s top bond fund manager says yield premiums could rise further in 2018. President Xi Jinping is stepping up efforts to trim the world’s largest corporate debt burden, after emerging even more powerful from the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress in October. Financial institutions are hoarding cash amid expectations the government will announce more measures to curb leverage, and that is pushing up borrowing costs in the money market.”
November 30 – Wall Street Journal (Shen Hong): “A widening gap between official and market interest rates in China is making it harder for Beijing to use a key policy tool to manage the world’s second-largest economy. Short-term interest rates in China’s money market have persistently been above those set by the central bank in the past year, as investors and banks spooked by the government’s crackdown on the country’s high levels of leverage have charged more to lend both to each other and external borrowers… The interest rate the People’s Bank of China sets on its benchmark seven-day repurchase agreements, its de facto policy rate, has stayed unchanged at 2.45% since March. Meanwhile the corresponding repurchase agreements, or repo, rate that banks charge each other for their own seven-day loans, has risen to 2.93%…”
November 24 – Reuters (Shu Zhang and Josephine Mason): “The National Internet Finance Association of China issued a risk warning letter late on Friday telling ‘unqualified institutions’ to immediately stop offering loans as Beijing steps up a crackdown on the micro-loan sector to fend off financial risks. The 1 trillion yuan ($151.5bn) short-term, unsecured lending sector, known as ‘cash loan’ in China, has been accused of charging exorbitant interest rates and violent debt collection practices.”
Federal Reserve Watch:
November 29 – Bloomberg (Christopher Condon): “The U.S. economy grew at a modest to moderate pace through mid-November as price pressures strengthened and the labor market tightened… The central bank’s Beige Book economic report, based on anecdotal information collected by the 12 regional Fed banks through Nov. 17, said business contacts also reported a brightening view as they look ahead. The findings could help bolster the case for an interest-rate increase when policy makers next meet in two weeks.”
November 29 – CNBC (Jeff Cox): “Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank is concerned with growth getting out of hand and thus is committed to continuing to raise rates in a gradual manner. ‘We don’t want to cause a boom-bust condition in the economy,’ Yellen told Congress in her semiannual testimony Wednesday.”
U.S. Bubble Watch:
November 27 – Bloomberg (Sho Chandra): “U.S. purchases of new homes unexpectedly advanced in broad fashion last month, reaching the strongest pace in a decade and offering an encouraging signal for residential construction… Single-family home sales rose 6.2% m/m to 685k annualized pace (est. 627k), the highest since Oct. 2007. Supply of homes at current sales rate fell to 4.9 months, the smallest since July 2016.”
November 28 – Bloomberg (Patrick Clark): “U.S. consumer confidence unexpectedly improved in November to a fresh 17-year high, a sign Americans are growing more confident about the economy and labor market… Confidence index rose to 129.5 (est. 124), the best since November 2000, from a revised 126.2 in October… Consumer expectations gauge advanced to 113.3, the strongest reading since September 2000, from 109.”
November 27 – Reuters (Richa Naidu): “Black Friday and Thanksgiving online sales in the United States surged to record highs as shoppers bagged deep discounts and bought more on their mobile devices, heralding a promising start to the key holiday season… U.S. retailers raked in a record $7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, up 17.9% from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics…”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Sho Chandra): “The U.S. economy’s growth rate last quarter was revised upward to the fastest in three years on stronger investment from businesses and government agencies than previously estimated… Gross domestic product grew at a 3.3% annualized rate (est. 3.2%), revised from 3%; fastest since 3Q 2014… Business-equipment spending rose at a 10.4% pace, a three-year high, revised from 8.6%; reflects transportation gear.”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Camila Russo, Olga Kharif, and Lily Katz): “Bitcoin plunged as much as 20% hours after a rally past $11,000 generated a surge in traffic at online exchanges that led to intermittent outages. The plunge capped a wild day for the largest cryptocurrency that included a breakneck advance to a high of $11,434 before the reversal took it as low as $9,009.”
November 24 – Bloomberg (Lu Wang): “As Wall Street equity forecasters discharge their annual duty of predicting another up year for the S&P 500 Index, it’s worth taking a moment to notice what would be accomplished should that projection come true. At 2,800, the average estimate of nine strategists tracked by Bloomberg points not only to another year of all-time highs, but also an extension of a bull market that would make it the longest ever recorded. Born in the depths of the financial crisis, the advance that started in March 2009 is nine months away from surpassing the 1990-2000 run from the dot-com era.”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Patrick Clark): “The shortage of listings that has defined the U.S. home sales market in recent years will begin to ease in the second half of 2018, according to a new report, but not before setting a record for consecutive months of decline. Increased inventory will help slow price appreciation, especially at higher price points, according to… Realtor.com. That will come as welcome news after the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city index this week showed that prices rose 6.2% in September from a year earlier, the largest increase in more than three years. Inventory has decreased on a year-over-year basis in each of the past 29 months… The longest streak on record is 30 months.”
November 27 – Bloomberg (Joanna Ossinger): “New York City could lose some of its highest-income residents if the tax bill making its way through the U.S. Congress becomes law, according to estimates from Goldman Sachs… Initial analysis suggests that the legislation ‘could eventually lower the number of top-income earners in New York City’ by 2% to 4%, Goldman economists led by Jan Hatzius wrote… The trigger would be a provision that restricts the ability of taxpayers to deduct the levies they pay to state and local authorities, which would disproportionately hit locations with relatively high rates. Home prices across the U.S. might also decline by 1% to 3%.”
November 27 – Bloomberg (Brian K Sullivan): “This year’s U.S. Atlantic hurricane season is officially the most expensive ever, racking up $202.6 billion in damages since the formal start on June 1. The costs tallied by disaster modelers Chuck Watson and Mark Johnson surpass anything they’ve seen in previous years. That shouldn’t come as a complete surprise: In late August, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, wreaking havoc upon the heart of America’s energy sector. Then Irma struck Florida, devastating the Caribbean islands on the way. Hurricane Maria followed shortly after, wiping out power to all of Puerto Rico.”
Central Banker Watch:
November 30 – Bloomberg (Alessandro Speciale and Catherine Bosley): “Central banks concerned about the effects of raising rates too fast shouldn’t underestimate the risks of delaying action, the general manager of the Bank for International Settlements said. ‘Postponing normalization too much also has risks,’ [said] Jaime Caruana… ‘Why? Because there is more risk-taking and it’s difficult to know where the risk-taking will go.’”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Jiyeun Lee and Hooyeon Kim): “The Bank of Korea raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2011, marking a likely turning point for Asian central banks. The region faces rising pressure to increase borrowing costs after the Federal Reserve began tightening at the end of 2015 and today’s move in Seoul is the first hike of a benchmark rate by a major central bank in Asia since 2014. Governor Lee Ju-yeol said during a news conference that the decision to raise the seven-day repurchase rate to 1.5% was meant to prevent financial imbalances.”
Global Bubble Watch:
November 29 – Bloomberg (Sofia Horta E Costa): “A prolonged bull market across stocks, bonds and credit has left a measure of average valuation at the highest since 1900, a condition that at some point is going to translate into pain for investors, according to Goldman Sachs… ‘It has seldom been the case that equities, bonds and credit have been similarly expensive at the same time, only in the Roaring ’20s and the Golden ’50s,’ Goldman Sachs International strategists including Christian Mueller-Glissman wrote… ‘All good things must come to an end’ and ‘there will be a bear market, eventually’ they said.”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Sofia Horta E Costa): “Investors may only have seven months left to savor a bull run that has added $27 trillion to global equity markets this year, say Credit Suisse Group AG strategists. While they predict economic growth and steady profits will help add another 6% to the MSCI All-Country World Index by mid-2018, stocks are unlikely to push any higher after that. Risks that could make the second half ‘more difficult’ include a flare-up in junk debt markets, China’s tightening policy and accelerating wages in the U.S, according to a Nov. 28 note.”
November 27 – Bloomberg (Kana Nishizawa, Lianting Tu, and Narae Kim): “The selloff in China’s debt market is a precursor for what global bond traders can expect as reflation gets underway, according to Sean Darby, chief global strategist of Jefferies Group LLC’s Hong Kong unit. While declines in Chinese debt have been exacerbated by a crackdown on shadow banking and attempts to curb corporate borrowing, Darby says global yields are set to follow suit as markets start to price in tighter monetary policy by central banks and as China exports inflation. China ‘was the first one really to reflate from 2016,’ Darby told Bloomberg… ‘Expansion of essentially quantitative easing by the People’s Bank of China is in one sense also being reversed as the yield starts to shift upwards.”
November 30 – Bloomberg (Brian Chappatta): “For all the hullabaloo around the flattening U.S. yield curve in November, the 10-year yield is still on track for its least turbulent month in almost four decades. The note’s yield, which serves as a benchmark for everything from U.S. mortgages to borrowing costs for municipalities, fell in November to as low as 2.3% and topped out at 2.41%. That’s the narrowest range since 1979. Even with volatility largely suppressed, the rate has swung about 32 bps on average every month over the past five years.”
November 28 – Bloomberg (Andrew Janes): “There’s ‘somewhat of a numbness’ to risk among investors right now that’s reminiscent of pre-crisis periods in the past, according to Olivier d’Assier, head of applied research for Asia Pacific at Axioma Inc. …d’Assier… points to the lack of reaction to the recent jump in the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s SPX Volatility Index. The gauge, known as the VIX index, surged from 10.18% at the end of October to as high as 14.51% on Nov. 15, a three-month intraday high. ‘A couple of years ago, when there was a 6, 9, 10% increase in the VIX Index, everybody panicked,’ he said. But ‘nobody cared, everybody jumped in’ when the measure shot up this month, d’Assier said.”
Fixed Income Bubble Watch:
November 27 – Financial Times (Joe Rennison and Robert Smith): “Investors are driving a revival of structured credit products that were a hallmark of the boom years before the financial crisis, as slumbering global bond yields spur a greater tolerance of risk in the search for returns. The sale of collateralised loan obligations — bonds that group together leveraged loans made to companies — has already past $100bn of new issuance for 2017, well ahead of the $60bn sold over the same period in 2016 and approaching the post-crisis record of $124bn set in 2014. Traders and analysts say foreign investors out of Asia and Europe, alongside domestic insurance companies, generally favour senior CLO tranches… Global pension funds and hedge funds are said to be driving demand for riskier tranches that promise a higher return than current fixed returns available from owning US high-yield bonds.”
November 28 – Financial Times (Shawn Donnan): “The ramifications of the European Central Bank’s massive bond purchases in recent years register acutely for insurance companies and pension funds alongside other traditional buyers of top tier debt. Over the past three years, the ECB’s bond purchases have sucked more than €2tn of debt out of Europe’s publicly traded markets, and an estimated €760bn, or nearly a third, of these bonds are triple A rated… Joe McConnell, a portfolio manager in the global liquidity group at JPMorgan Asset Management, argues that there has been no issue ‘getting fully invested’ but that returns have been clearly affected. ‘The main impact of QE has been driving yields lower,’ he said, adding that the yields on ‘pretty much everything’ in the money market universe are negative. Alongside a reduction in the outstanding universe of highly-rated assets, the sheer volume of purchases has placed huge downward pressure on bond yields. In turn, that leaves investors having to accept higher levels of credit and interest rate risk in order to generate reasonable returns.”
November 29 – Bloomberg (Alessandro Speciale): “German inflation accelerated more than anticipated in November, in a sign that robust growth in Europe’s largest economy may be translating into higher prices. Consumer prices rose an annual 1.8%… That’s faster than October’s 1.5% and beats the 1.7% median forecast…”
November 26 – Financial Times (Gavyn Davies): “The five year term of Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda will end in April 2018. As one of Prime Minister Abe’s key lieutenants, it had been widely assumed that he will be reappointed to a second term, and that his aggressive programme of monetary expansion will be maintained at least until inflation has over-shot the Bank’s 2% target. This had become one of the fixed points in consensus expectations for global asset prices in 2018. Last week, however, these strong assumptions came into question for the first time. The yen rose as investors paid attention to Governor Kuroda’s recent speech in Zurich, which specifically noted some of the risks associated with the policy commitment to fix the 10 year government bond yield at zero… This was followed by some hawkish press ‘guidance’, allegedly from within the central bank. Then, new BoJ Board member Hitoshi Suzuki followed the Governor with a much clearer signal that this so-called Yield Curve Control (YCC) could be watered down next year. If so, it would be the first sign of that the central bank may be contemplating the normalisation of interest rates, albeit with Japanese characteristics.”
November 27 – Reuters (Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto): “Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said… that a ‘reversal rate,’ or the level where interest rate cuts by a central bank could hurt the economy, helps the BOJ understand the appropriate shape of the yield curve. ‘It’s a theory that helps us understand the appropriate shape of the yield curve,’ Kuroda told parliament… Kuroda referred to an academic study on the reversal rate in a speech earlier this month, adding to recent growing signals from the BOJ that it could edge away from crisis-mode stimulus earlier than expected.”
November 27 – Financial Times (Robin Harding): “Japanese companies are scouring the country for workers and offering more attractive permanent contracts as they struggle to overcome the worst labour shortages in 40 years. Companies across a range of sectors — from construction to aged care — have warned in recent days that a lack of staff is starting to hit their business. The hiring difficulties highlight Japan’s declining population and the strength of its economy after five years of economic stimulus… ‘Delays to construction projects are becoming chronic,’ said Motohiro Nagashima, president of Toli Corporation, one of Japan’s biggest makers of floor coverings.”
Emerging Market Watch:
November 29 – Financial Times (Kate Allen): “Emerging market countries, banks and companies are selling long-dated debt in record volumes as investors’ search for yield pushes them to expand their appetite for risk. With markets set to remain open for business for another couple of weeks before winding down to year-end, syndicated sales of paper with maturities of 10 years and more has hit a record high in emerging economies, topping $500bn for the first time according to… Dealogic… Around a third of the total finance raised came from sovereigns and related entities, while 37% came from EM corporates and a quarter from financial institutions… Ultra-low interest rates in developed economies have channelled a wave of money towards higher-yielding assets, pushing up prices in EMs.”
November 28 – Wall Street Journal (Patrick Clark): “The debt woes of one of India’s leading wireless carriers Reliance Communications Ltd. have deepened this week thanks to an unlikely new source of pressure—a leading state-owned Chinese bank. It emerged late Monday that China Development Bank, a policy bank which often helps fund Chinese companies’ investments overseas, had late last week filed a petition for Reliance… to be declared insolvent. The move is highly unusual. Only once before in recent times has a foreign lender requested an Indian company to be declared insolvent. However, China Development Bank is one of RCom’s biggest lenders, having invested some $2 billion in the company’s debt since 2010.”
Leveraged Speculation Watch:
November 30 – Financial Times (Robin Wigglesworth): “A divergence in performance among quantitative hedge funds has caught the eye of investors. In a year where many such funds that surf market trends have disappointed, some of their more daring cousins have clocked up juicy returns trading everything from electricity to cheese prices. Computer-powered trend-following hedge funds… have enjoyed robust inflows in recent years… But their performance has been mediocre recently, gaining about 2% on average this year, according to a Société Générale index. However, a batch of hedge funds that trade less liquid, more exotic markets have clocked up attractive double-digit returns. These vehicles eschew mainstream markets and attempt to ride trends in areas such as Brazilian and Czech interest rate derivatives, natural gas, uranium funds and even cheese and milk contracts.”